A Good Day to Die Hard is the fifth in an unintentional franchise. Going to the well, Bruce Willis again plays John McClane, a simple New York cop who warrants five movies due to his penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This time, the wrong place is Moscow. John's estranged son Jack (Jai Courteney) is in police custody after getting himself in some messy business involving a corrupt Russian official with an axe to grind against Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a dissident who possesses a damning file.
McClane Sr. shows up at the courthouse at the precise moment a paramilitary group virtually blows the place up with the intention of capturing Komarov. Instead, Jack and Komarov are on the run. And John, after saving their butts in an explosive demolition derby on the streets and highways of Moscow, is grudgingly invited to tag along.
This first big action sequence is an indication of bad things to come. In previous Die Hard movies, especially the first one, the directors were usually pretty skilled at scrupulously staging mayhem so that it was at least somewhat consistent with physical reality.
Director John Moore (whose "credits" include the ludicrous action movie Max Payne) just smashes vehicles against each other mindlessly. When the smoke clears, everybody just happens to be conveniently positioned and ready for the next stunt-dependent throwdown.
Mindless entertainment proves to be the movie's credo. One expects a wild ride in a Die Hard movie, but the best thing about the early ones is that John McClane was not a superhero or a superspy, but a resourceful regular guy who could defeat the bad guys running on spunk and sheer stamina.
Let's flash back to the first movie where the guy is removing broken glass from his feet, crying, and passing on a message to his wife that he wished he'd been more supportive.
Twenty-five years later, McClane is fighting for survival with his estranged son and his fatherly feelings are mostly expressed with cynicism and macho posturing. ("Need a hug?")
Another problem: Willis is selling his action appeal pretty cheap these days, what with The Expendables and G.I. Joe, so we shouldn't be surprised the returns are diminishing.
One also feels obliged to add that, many miles from the Big Apple, McClane has essentially become the international man of action, up to his neck in global intrigue.
That is all very well for James Bond but it's downright self-defeating for a Die Hard movie.
Georges and Anne live a comfortable life of retirement in their Paris apartment. They are in their 80s, but the two former music teachers venture out to concerts and the odd funeral. They read, they cook, they listen to music. They receive visitors, including former students who have become celebrated musicians. They offer tea and sympathy to their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) as she visits from London and vents about her unsatisfactory husband.
It is a good, comfortable life. But one evening over dinner, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) simply blanks out, failing to respond to an increasingly panicked Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The fugue state only lasts a minute, but it will be a turning point in their love story.
This is unexpected material for Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke, whose past work (Funny Games, The White Ribbon, Cache) tends to be cerebral and chilly. But it is of a piece with Haneke's ethos. He's a filmmaker who takes long lingering looks at subjects we would rather not consider.
That is the challenge Georges faces as Anne suffers a series of debilitating strokes and becomes increasingly less self-reliant.
Befitting the elderly characters, Haneke paces this story slowly. This is not frustrating because the apartment, where almost the entire movie takes place, is rather magnificent, and the two actors who move through the space are magnificent, too.
Riva (see her younger self in the 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour) is nominated for a best-actress Oscar and has a healthy shot at winning the award for her work here, portraying the physical deterioration of a vital soul without flinching.
Trintignant received no nomination, but probably deserved one. In his prime, Trintignant played reticent, close-to-the-vest characters in films such as The Conformist and Z. This movie uses his previously cool screen persona to great effect, as Georges' stoic determination to care for Anne suffers stress fractures that accumulate and result in a scene that is simply shattering.
Yet behind it all, one never forgets the title of the film, and its appropriateness to the subject matter.
In movies, the visual lexicon of love is sex. Haneke offers a different interpretation that should be easily recognized, yet is almost radically subversive by Hollywood standards.